Con Fullam, the man behind the animated children’s series “the Wompkees,” has been blessed with success in a way he never imagined when starting out as a folk musician in the 1960s.
His first animated feature, “A Very Wompkee Christmas,” is selling well both nationwide and in 38 different countries. A second movie, “The Hidden Treasure of Wompkee Wood,” is in the works, along with another Wompkee children’s book. And his latest endeavor, a children’s show called “Ribert and Robert’s Wonderworld,” is in syndication on public television stations across the United States.
“It’s great to see something you create come to life,” Fullam says.
At his home overlooking Little Sebago Lake in Windham, Fullam is hard at work on a host of pet projects, including screenplays, songs, and continuing work with the Wompkees – fantastical elfin creatures whose big ears allow them to communicate with all the animals and plants near their home in the woods.
Fullam believes these Wompkees are everywhere, even in his own backyard. And the wilderness around Little Sebago is likely hideout for the little Wompkees who live in the fabled “Wompkee Wood” where “wompberries” grow in plenty.
Eleven years ago, Fullam stumbled upon the idea for Wompkees with his wife Marsha while they were writing a song together. At the time, they need a rhyming word to fit with their lyrics. And immediately after it slipped off the tongue, the couple felt that “Wompkee” was much more than a cute rhyming word.
“It all of a sudden struck us that Wompkee sounded like something,” Fullam said.
Before the Wompkees, Fullam had never dreamed of getting involved in the wacky world of children’s television.
As a singer/songwriter during the Greenwich Village folk revival, where Bob Dylan made his fame, Fullam concentrated on creating his own music and writing songs for popular folk bands of the ’60s and ’70s. But with the adoption of two children, Trevin and Riley, Fullam saw Wompkee as something more than a silly word; it was an opportunity to create a world for children to explore.
For lack of a better analogy he says, Fullam relates the “Wompkees” to the “Smurfs.” There’s Buster the berry gobbler, Hummer the inventor, little Twig, and Gran, the grandma Wompkee who bakes berry muffins for the younger ones.
While the Wompkees face many challenges in the woods, when they work through them as a team, “they succeed in a positive way,” Fullam says.
Fullam suffered a series of disappointments before Wompkees made the jump from fantasy to “animated” life.
Fullam first approached Mary Meyers, a plush toy company in Vermont, with the idea of selling the Wompkee book “Welcome to Wompkee Wood” with companion plush toys.
Using Fullam’s rough sketches, Meyers designed a plush toy that sold thousands and was named runner-up for toy of the year; that is until Fullam discovered a fatal flaw. The wires used to make the Wompkees’ flexible ears could puncture through the fabric, a danger to children. So, Fullam, of his own doing, had the toys recalled.
The first toy fiasco hasn’t stop the sale of Wompkee toys since – without the wires, of course. And, for more than 10 years, a human-sized “Twig” has starred in the Macy’s Day Parade.
After a corporate merger cancelled production of his television series by MGM Studios, the Wompkees finally came to life when Michael DeVitto, head of a Massachusetts animation company called Deos Animation, contacted Fullam, interested in his Wompkee world.
The two have formed a partnership that produced the first Wompkee movie and the animated children’s show “Ribert and Robert’s Wonderworld” which has received the highest ranking from the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media.
Fullam describes “Wonderworld” as the first program “a kid can ride.” Like Sesame Street, the show is interactive and revolves around a young frog, Ribert, who, like every four-year-old, is inquisitive about everything.
“The show is really designed to engage children in topics that are of interest to them,” he said.
Each episode, Ribert asks Robert, a human character, a question and Robert answers his questions by taking him on a magical ride through “Wonderworld,” a theme park where artists, musicians, scientists and others teach Ribert about this wondering world of ours.
Through his “Wompkee world” and now the world of Ribert & Robert, Fullam hopes to help shape young minds in a positive way.
The Wompkee movie and books are available in stores or online at www.wompkee.com. “Ribert and Robert’s Wonderworld” airs at 7 a.m. Saturdays on the Maine Public Broadcasting channel.